The year 2021 was one of strange, industry-changing upheaval. Warner Bros. decided to release all their films day-and-date in theaters and on streaming to mixed effect, Ridley Scott struggled to find commercial success, Jane Campion made a movie.
There’s a possibility that this year will be another confused trek though pandemic waves and mushy studio guesswork, and that half of this list will push into 2023. I hope not though. We’re really ready for movies again.
There’s a lot of work being done by filmmakers, by studios, by exhibitors, to get people back to the theatre. We’ll probably know the fruits of that labor this year, when the lessons from 2021 are borne out.
In the meantime, it’s good to get excited for what’s to come. Here is a list what I am excited for.
14. The Banshees of Inisherin
Colin Farrell has quietly turned into one of the greatest movie stars of our time. Since his resignation from the chair of ‘leading man,’ his work has been filled with loving, desperate, deep and non-pretentious performances. It’s shaping up to be a banner year for later-career Farrell, with potentially three films debuting.
In his third collaboration with writer-director Martin McDonagh Farrell plays one of a duo, whose friendship falls apart to presumably disastrous results. Not much else is known about the film, but co-stars Brendan Gleeson (Farrell’s sad-sack hitman buddy from In Bruges) and Barry Keoghan have got me excited.
Release: TBD 2022
I loved Jackass the TV show when I was a kid, the movies when I was a teenager, and I’m sure that this entry (now pushed back twice) will ring the same bell of sweet-hearted self-mutilation. With returning loved ones (Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius) and cameos from new friends (Eric André, Tyler the Creator) Forever has the potential to sweep me off my feet.
Somehow, through sheer ball-tapping good natured-ness, Knoxville and his crew have emerged as some of the most genuine, and genuinely charming entertainers of our time.
Release: February 4th
12. The Fabelmans
Spielberg’s fictional-yet-autobiographical family opus about a young boy whose parents are entering a tumultuous divorce.
In a sense, it’s a return to a subject Spielberg has previously tackled with mastery: the plight and wonder of young children in a grown-up world. Here’s hoping he can bring the same magic to his own childhood as he has to countless others.
Starring relative newcomer Gabriel LaBelle as our presumed Spielberg stand-in, with Paul Dano, and Michelle Williams supporting. Judd Hirsch (gasp!) is also confirmed for an undisclosed role.
Release: November 23rd
11. Disappointment Blvd.
Described as a ‘nightmare comedy’ about a successful entrepreneur, Ari Aster is back with another horror to follow his excellent Midsommar.
Aster has a knack for telling you exactly what he’s going to do, and leaving you surprised and horrified when he does it anyway. His unsettled plotting and a no-frills style make for very, very scary movies, that have left knots in my stomach for weeks afterward.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Zoe Lister-Jones, and excitingly, Parker Posey, Blvd. is one I’m nervously giddy to see.
Release: TBD 2022
10. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
There’s a requisite Marvel slot to put on this list, and no offense to the Thor: Love and Thunder crowd, but this one is directed by Sam Raimi. The first guy to crack the superhero code and launch an entire global cottage industry is back to helm what sure to be a psychedelic romp through the newly minted Marvel ‘multi-verse’.
Benedict Cumberbatch has settled into the role over his past few appearances, becoming more stern, less Stark. It works, and Madness is sure to bring back all your cross-pollinated pals, with Kaitlin Olsen, and Benedict Wong co-starring. One request: Could this sequel please see Rachel McAdams with more to do than stand around and look concerned? It would be much appreciated.
If Raimi can bring his over-the-top, buzzsaw-style to Marvel, all the better for it, and there are high hopes for a delightful, interdimensional round of corporate synergy.
Release: May 6th
9. Cha Cha Real Smooth
Winner of the ‘best-named-movie-on-this-list’ award, Cha Cha Real Smooth is the second film from writer-director-star Cooper Raiff. His college love story Shithouse (another incredible title) made small waves at digital SXSW last year, and Cha Cha seems to be its spiritual successor.
Described as a young man who befriends a mother (Dakota Johnson) and her child, Cha Cha Real Smooth is set for the Sundance 2022 lineup. Raiff’s calm, intimate filmmaking has the ability to strike a more honest tone than most, and that’s something worth looking forward to.
Release: Sundance Film Festival
8. Mission impossible 7
There’s something fascinating in watching the product of Tom Cruise’s labor. His mission to make the most distilled, Tom Cruise-focused movies is very weird, but also admirable. His films connect on a level of realism that the CGI-laden blockbusters cannot achieve. He, above anyone else with his level of power, has pushed to retain the magic of in-camera spectacle – a good and healthy thing for the industry.
In fact, the amount of live stunt work that these films bring to the table is unparalleled. They are sold on that fact, and have been a good bet on delivering what they claim. Christopher McQuarrie has proven to be a capable steward of the later (and more excellent) entries, and everyone in the supporting cast(s) seem to know that they are in the Tom Cruise business.
Often disastrous in his other franchise efforts (see below), Cruise has a knack for understanding the exact right flavor of adrenaline to bring to the Impossible movies. Let’s hope entry seven can deliver the same.
Release: September 20th
7. Triangle of Sadness
Lord of the Flies, but with a pair of models (Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean) stuck on a desert island with a group of vicious billionaires.
Director Ruben Östlund won the Palme d’Or in 2017 with The Square, a bizarre criticism of the art world, capitalism and the insular lives of rich people. He quickly announced Sadness as his follow-up, but production was paused in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus. With filming now complete, Triangle of Sadness is slated to be one of the most darkly comedic films of the year. Woody Harrelson also stars.
Release: TBD 2022
6. Killers of the Flower Moon
Scorsese’s late career has been full of high highs and (for me) very low lows. I will be the first to raise my hand and say that The Irishman was a bad movie; that it had too much weird computer-face and was far too long. But despite the self-indulgence, he is still capable of wresting out some of the best performances in modern movie history (Andrew Garfield in Silence being a particular favorite).
This bodes well for Killers of the Flower Moon an epic centered on the serial killings of members of the Osage Indian tribe in the 1920s. A cast that includes Jesse Plemmons, Leo DiCaprio, Robert DiNero, Brenden Fraser, and Lily Gladstone (the list goes on) is ripe fruit for Scorsese. Working off a non-fiction book by David Gran, Killers could have the right mix of gritty punch and darkly harrowing subject matter to make it a true-crime classic.
Release: TBD Fall 2022
5. The Northman
Robert Eggers made a horrifying, well-crafted entrance with 2015’s The Witch, and an even bigger splash (ha!) with 2019’s brined, panic-dream The Lighthouse. Now he takes on a Norse tale of revenge, with an absolutely jacked Alexander Skarsgård as a Viking son seeking retribution for his murdered father.
A cast that also includes Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, it’s a murderers’ row of characters known for giving the intense and feverish performances that Eggers’ films thrive on.
From the trailer, the film looks cold, and disgustingly filthy, and littered with dream-like visions of Björk as a sinister clairvoyant (hell yeah). Eggers’s hammering fondness for absolutely torturing his main characters make his films like car crashes that you can’t look away from.
Release: April 8th
4. The Woman King
Many decried director Gina Prince-Blythewood’s decision to step away from the sequel to her smartly-crafted smash hit Netflix action-thriller The Old Guard. But perhaps Prince-Blythewood had this project in mind when she made that decision.
Based on true events, Viola Davis stars as General Nanisca, who gains control of the African Kingdom of Dahomey (in present-day Benin). The Woman King boasts a ream of strong supporters such as Lyshana Lynch and John Boyega, whose post-Disney career is gearing up to be interesting as hell.
A risk for sure, in this world where good, adult dramas get swallowed by streaming, but if The Woman King follows Gina Prince-Blythewood’s model of sharp, socially critical fare with commercial appeal, it’ll be high on the list of things to run to theaters for.
Release: September 16th
3. Showing Up
Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow was a big hit in 2020, winning over festivals, and making numerous top 10 lists. Bowing her fourth collaboration with actress Michelle Williams Showing Up centers around a woman on the eve of a defining art exhibition.
Reichardt has a penchant to be plain-spoken in her filmmaking, but that doesn’t mean her characters are plain. Her films are scattered with richly intense and conflicted people, who sometimes feel so real as to be out of a documentary.
This is a credit, too, to her collaborators: Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Peter Sarsgaard etc. All have brought her films performances dripping with lived-in realism. This new film co-stars John Mafaro, the great Amanda Plummer, and (mr. big-year) Judd Hirsch.
Whatever the material, whoever the actors, we can be sure that Reichhart will bring her love of complex characters in a complex world to the screen.
Release: TBD 2022
2. Top Gun Maverick
Wouldja look at that? Another Thomas Cruise movie.
Listen, the guy is kind of undeniable. I know, I know, this movie most likely shouldn’t exist. Tony Scott’s ode to the sweaty male ego is, was, and remains perfect. And with Scott’s unfortunate passing in 2012, it almost feels blasphemous to try to recapture the jet-fueled commercial magic of the original.
Why mess with it? Well, because Tom will not stop until he can sell a second franchise (see: Jack Reacher, The Mummy) to the God-loving American public, and I for one will be there for him.
Even with Joseph Kosinski (Cruise’s solid collaborator on Oblivion) now at the helm, and Miles Teller’s ripped abs shaking all over that beach, we still could be heading for another Hollywood relaunch disappointment…and yet…
Twenty seconds into the trailer, with the familiar *bwam bwaaaamp* of the synthesizer firing up, it’s enough to make the most reluctant parts of me well up with nostalgic pride. Let’s do this thing. I am ready. Let it be great… *please*.
Release: May 27th
1. Poor Things
Yorgos Lanthimos has proven himself to be one of the most dynamic, unpredictable and interesting filmmakers working today. His films are at times tenderly sweet, delightfully confusing, and downright horrifying
Apart from his excellent Greek-language films, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and The Favourite have all found critical success domestically, with the latter netting itself an Oscar win.
Starring an eclectic cast which includes the steady hands of Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, and Mark Ruffalo, Things also slates Ramy Youseff, whose show Ramy was one of the funniest and most refreshing comedies of the past few years.
Poor Things, based on a 1992 novel of the same name, is described as the tale of a mad-scientist bringing back to life a young woman played by Stone. No doubt that surface story will become far more labyrinthine and mystifying as Lanthimos makes the genre of science fiction his own.
Release: TBD 2022
Despite the tumult of last year, Spider-Man: No Way Home opened to a quarter-billion dollars at the domestic box office. Clearly there is a draw, but the question remains whether anything but a tentpole action franchise can bring people into theaters. Will the stagnation of lockdown, and the promise of big-screen fun be enough for people to allay their concerns through the next wave of the pandemic?
For Spider-Man, and films like it, probably. For everything else, we’ll know soon whether COVID has taken a permanent toll on the box office. Exhibitors cannot survive on 4-5 large-scale movies a year, no matter what the studios think. So there’s danger that if box offices cannot return to pre-pandemic levels, all but the major chains will fade away.
The good news, though, is that this year’s slate is filled with artist-driven, interesting projects which I will watch, preferably in a movie theater. Here’s to 2022! Let’s go to the movies.
Golda – A biopic of Golda Meir, starring Helen Mirren
Creed 3 – Michael B. Jordan directing himself in the third installment of these excellent Rocky revivals.
The Batman – Robert Pattinson as the punch-happy Caped Crusader.